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Creating an online PLN in gifted education

Teachers love to talk shop. Teachers' spouses and children who have accidentally strayed near this blog are probably shouting something about understatements at the screen right now. We can be just a tiny bit unstoppable, I'm afraid, when we talk about education with our colleagues. However, when teachers shift their professional focus to include specialised areas such as gifted education, the customary stream of chatter can run dry. Teachers who are used to co-constructing meaning about better ways to teach suddenly find themselves figuring it out alone. This heightened autonomy in professional learning can be freeing and exhilarating. It can also be daunting, and even lonely. Online Personal Learning Networks (PLN's, also called Professional Learning Networks) can help to address the problem of professional isolation.

A Numeracy Approach - Or how creating an online PLN is not usually done.

Count your friends. Subtract all friends who are not teachers. Then subtract all friends who are not interested in gifted education (or the educational specialty of your choice). Then subtract all friends who don't like the internet. Then drag your one remaining friend online, chat a little, and wonder why you didn't just meet for coffee.

PLN Numeracy - not the way to go! - CC BY Mary St George.

A Literacy Lurkeracy Approach - Or how creating an online PLN often begins.

Find friends who you know in real life online. Any friends will do. Twitter friends, Facebook friends, Linked In friends, it doesn't really matter. They don't even have to be teachers. Chat with them and read their posts until you are somewhat confident in using the social network concerned, then keep at it until you are just bored enough to try something new. Now search your social network for giftedness (or the educational specialty of your choice). You'll almost always find it. Now lurk!

Lurking is when you read wall posts, chats and shared links on a social networking site without posting any replies. If time allows, lurk in two or three groups so that you can decide which seems to offer the best combination of friendliness, responsiveness and relevance. Lurk until you are somewhat confident in the modus operandi of the group concerned, then keep at it until you are just bored enough to try something new. Now dive into the conversation.

It won't be quite like a staffroom conversation. There will be no tea stained sign telling you to put your own mug in the dishwasher, and you'll probably all be complaining about different kinds of weather. The conversation is likely to be written down, and there may well be some parents chiming in. However, as happens in a staffroom, you'll find some people whose professional goals and interests are similar to your own, and you'll have your deepest conversations with these people. Once you've found them, your PLN has begun. Question, share, learn, debate, reflect. It's what people in PLN's do, and it can really make a difference to your sense of professional isolation. 

Here are a some pointers and links to help you out if your current teaching interest is gifted education:

On Twitter, hashtags help you to find and share relevant content. You can put them in your own posts, and they will also serve as links to all other current posts with the same hashtag. Gifted specific hashtags include #gtchat (a global gifted and talented chat), #gtvoice (UK based), #gtie (Ireland), #tagt (Texas), #nagc (US), #gtala (Alabama) and #2ekids (twice exceptional). Some of these hashtags are used for a Twitter chat during the week, and it is easier to follow these via Tweetchat than directly through Twitter. #gtchat is on Saturdays in NZ time, so tends to be easiest for our teachers to attend. Add posts with potentially interesting links to your Twitter favourites during busy chats so that you can find them again later and read them easily.

On Facebook, most of the gifted education groups are busier than the gifted education pages. Material that you contribute within a group will also be more visible than on a page too, so you will get more responses. Gifted education groups include Mary's Gifted Contacts and Davidson Insititute Educator's Guild. Pages are not designed to facilitate conversation to the same extent, but may be really good sources of information. Interesting pages include Teaching for High Potential and SENG's Facebook page. Further gifted education and advocacy pages and groups on Facebook can be found in Gifted Online's note.

On Linked In, gifted education groups tend to be less busy than Facebook groups and Twitter hashtags. This can be an asset or a problem depending how much time you like to spend online. Gifted groups on Linked In include the Gifted and Talented Network and International Gifted Education

We also have homegrown Kiwi gifted networks including the NZAGC Forum, the very helpful TKI Gifted and Talented Mailing List and the small but growing giftEDnz group here on the VLN.

Some people do find it a bit daunting beginning a PLN online. If you feel that way, please be reassured that you are not alone. It's quite OK to lurk a little longer. It's also fine to ask for help. Just message me here, if you're a member of the VLN, or perhaps try me on Twitter. I'm sure you will find the support available in online groups well worth moving a little outside your comfort zone, and it's quite OK to make that movement one small step at a time.


This post is part of the #NZGAW Blog Tour.


#NZGAW Blog Tour




An organisation for anyone with a professional interest in gifted and talented education.